It happened that I was accompanying my friend and her family to a piece of land they own and organically farm when I glanced the red tulips. The plot, located somewhere between the Palestinian village Kobar and the Israeli settlement Halamish, neighbours some other plots belonging to other Palestinians; most of them are planted with olive trees and seasonal vegetables. The lands are conspicuously hedged with low stone fences and cascading terraces (familiar with their vernacular Palestinian name:  Sanasel - سناسل) , firmly enclosed and preventing wild animals, especially wild pigs and rabid settlers, entering the ground and destroying “everything”, or simply setting the olive trees on fire.
There, in the delightful secluded plateaux, I came across the red tulips. Neat and vivid, quite big yet delicate and similar to the ones one can find in flower shops and posies. Actually, it was the first time I discerned their wild existence in Palestinian nature, as my friend’s father insisted: these are the tulips of al-Jabal (tulipa montana). Scattered in bunches all over the hills, they stood proudly together as for a performance, displaying their desirable enchantment and descending a hush on the crowd. And me, being fascinated by the pure irresistible beauty and marvellous combination of colour, shape and form, unlimiting my compliance with the instinct of ownership, I found myself collecting some of these coveted red tulips and taking them home. Very enthusiastic about their quality, I tried, in several attempts, to photograph them and highlight their wild and natural presence, their latent charm, or finally showing the way they were- disheveled.
Previous attempts to photograph domestic flowers:
At that time in March 2016, I was asked by the Palestinian Museum to accompany professors from the department of Biology and Biochemistry at Birzeit University in their weekly tours observing Palestinian flora and collecting data. We were led by a young taxi driver from the village of Kobar who seemed to be quite familiar with the area and its wild uncharted trajectories. For more than three months we used to spend the tours locating the plants in our lists, traveling from mountain to valley, asking passing villagers if they recognised the name of a certain plants and their uses. However, a comprehensive study and survey of the Palestinian flora would never be conveyed completely as our tours were restricted to the territories within the West Bank only. Due to the apartheid separation system and occupation circumstances our (research) area was confined to be between Jenin in the north and the hills of Hebron in the south; the journey itself might even be tackled with many military checkpoints and rampaged soldiers and settlers.
Anxious about the quality of images I had to provide the Museum with, I spent a considerable amount of time looking for images and references. Interestingly but not surprisingly, I ended up with a bunch of old photographs (1900-1920) of Wild Flowers of Palestine found in the Matson Collection, Library of Congress. A hundred and twenty three mostly black and white photographs (2 not digitised and 4 hand-coloured), publicly open for view and download. These photographs depict plants, which vary between small-scale herbage to bigger bushes and trees, and provide elementary information on the coded photographs/documents rather the captured flora. Looking in detail at juxtapositions in some photographs of the plants and the surrounding landscape, sometimes architecture, and in some cases human beings - dwellers of Palestine in their traditional costumes - would thoroughly raise questions on the purpose of these photographs, on the (political) role of practicing photography in the Levant and North Africa from that era up until today. That photography that conveyed oriented look of the place and its people, captured landscapes, particularly in Palestine, served later colonial projects which deliberately focused on empty swaths of the land ignoring any cultural existence. It would also emphasise images repositories (such as the Library of Congress) positions of mapping (as a tool of sovereignty) and, finally, (mis)representing a place.
The joint enterprise of accompanying the BZU professors in their observational tours was fostered by the Palestinian Museum as part of the preparation for its opening ceremony. The Museum wished to provide its guests with a printed brochure consisting of photographs and basic information on the tilled plants (peculiar to Palestine) while guests meander through its gardens. And so it was. Despite the abundant collection of facts and information I came to know about the Palestinian flora throughout these arranged tours, I found myself more transfixed by the mountainous landscape and multilayered yet appealing topography of the West Bank, particularly the west northern area of Ramallah/Birzeit and the surrounding villages. Passing through the trajectories of this place, which is replete with its own history and fraught with its own tense silence, made it impossible to not let my eyes to cruise along the invisible memories and incidents of the land. An omniactive visual experience that photography and images could never entirely guarantee.
Who is likely to receive information?
These observational tours have allowed me to look through my photographs again, to remember how enjoyable photography could be and to infer its pedagogical potential — yet highly political and selectively vague for its phantasmagoric and surveillance quality . Moreover, through its digital widespread presence and myriad ways of usage and application, photography has been widely misused and, importantly, misunderstood. In her contribution to Visibility Machines, Hilde Van Gelder says that due to photography and film’s attitude for claiming to testify about [an event], they are both considered a way to approach reality as not only the result of a committed process of investigation, but also as a personally recorded experience. Thus, “photography and film”, she continues, “become a privileged instrument [through their wide and democratic use in the age of Instagram and selfie] to artistically contribute to imagining a more egalitarian world.”  However, photography would rather be a didactic instrument that encourages the viewer to see through the obvious information and to look at what is “hidden” inside the image itself. That is to say, the urgent role of photography and film is to empower the spectator, fostering her/him to perceive everyday reality from a different angle. 
These very particular trips steered me towards the red tulips, the archival flora’s photographs in the Matson Collection surveying the wild flowers of Palestine (in 1900-1920), and the planted Balloon Satellites function (see images observational tours V-VIII below). All drew my attention to the fawning and allegorical attributes of photography and its various practices and uses. The integration of photography and image production have been prominently constituting a structural dowel in realms (of capitalist) tourism, observation, espionage, surveillance, domination, etc., and yet are informationally restrictive. This would only emphasise the gaps and imbalance in the so-called visual culture, and thus the knowledge-as-power concept worldwide. It would also make me wonder how objective and un-ethnographic photography, tool and practice, could, or could not be. As well as, I would question the representative image/s a museum, or any other institution in Palestine, is trying to convey. Could an image of the Palestinian landscape ever utterly and truly represent Palestine?
- Wild Flowers of Palestine is the title of a photographs collection (circa 1900-1920) found in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue (PPOC) of the Library of Congress. The list, belonging to G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, depicts 123 photographs of wild flowers and plants growing in various places in Palestine. Amongst the flowers and angiosperms are: wild pink onion, wild catnip, wild garlic, almond tree in blossom, lily of the field, chamomile, tulips, and many others. Direct link to the list: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=wild%20flowers%20palestine&sg=true
- These terraces were traditionally formed by stonewalls erected by local villagers, transforming the hilly landscape into graduated steps that were more suitable for agriculture. See http://www.palmuseum.org/language/english and http://palgbc.org/index.php/en
- Determined to “make the desert bloom”, rejuvenating the earth and later on greenwashing the occupation, the Zionist movement (and the Jewish National Fund aka Keren Kayemet LeYisrael) transplanted some of the European flora to Palestine. Altering the Palestinian landscape while covering the ruins of the depopulated Palestinian villages for the sake of creating forests and recreational parks. Amongst these plants are most common the conifers and eucalyptus trees. For more information see http://jfjfp.com/?p=33219
- See Eduardo Cadava, Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History - XI. Eternal Return, Princeton University Press, New Jersey 1998.
- Hilde Van Gelder, Reclaiming Information, Rebuilding Stories: Reinventing Fundamental Rights, 2014,Visibility Machines. Harun Farocki and Trevor Paglen p. 66, UMBC Centre for Art.
PHOTOESSAY BY: ALAA ABU ASAD
I tried to fill your cup
with happiness and love
I sent good vibes your way
I sat on my knees and prayed
for you to be joyous again
I fell asleep believing that my prayers will be answered
I woke up the next hour
with a pain in my chest and no happiness
I've sent you all I've got
every last bit
your sorrow became mine
and my joy was stranded somewhere between you and me
you did not accept it
you did not return it
you kept it around just incase
you took it for granted
I learned that your cup is yours and I can't fill it
and my cup is broken and only I can fix it
TEXT & ART:
I know you must feel jilted, and I apologise for that. The truth is, I have lost you and traced the parts of you in my spine to get back. You weren’t easy to lose, though. There were nights where I’d bleach you off my skin, and I’d still find amorphous hints of you in the morning. You are part and parcel of me. I swallowed your blistering sun one day when I was 7, and the white heat knocked me down only to build me right back up. It has been in my stomach ever since, hardening me for life, but keeping my warmth ever ablaze.
Although you’re situated on a large plateau in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, you are anything but! You taught me relentless growth with your rapid industrialisation and your denizen’s habit of breeding like rabbits.
You taught me how to colour outside the lines in your city-wide canvas, spacious and stark and thirsty to absorb life. You taught me that my foundation should be strong enough to hold, like the desert, the barren surface overlays an inner brimming life that reaches depths unfathomable to the naked eye.
Your sand dunes taught me to stick to my guns, in that they withstood the test of time. They remained untainted by crass consumerism, Dutch disease, or political and religious indoctrination.
The band of grumpy drivers honking up a storm to what sounds like a crescendo street performance still reverberates ad infinitum. The smell of my mother still ripples in the ether. You’ve engulfed her body, but she sprung out through daisies. No wonder they call you the motherland. The land that mothered me, and the mother that landed beneath you.
I don't promise to keep in touch as often as I should, but I do promise to carry you like a kitschy talisman everywhere I go.
A plot for a movie that has never been made.
In 2015 close to the Mediterranean Sea, a young girl called Maryam Ahmadi with her fiancé Farhad Niazi and mother Reyhan board a small and grotty boat. They had left their home in Afghanistan upon the murder of her father and two brothers by the Taliban. After which, Farhad decides to bring this life of danger and constant fear to an end. Germany, where a cousin of theirs lives, started having a warmer feel and a nicer ring to their ears than their own hometown, and after selling all they owned without keeping a single thing behind, Germany became their first, and last salvation, they hoped.
They crossed the border to Iran on a bus and realized soon after that their neighbor country, although speaking the same language and adhering the same faith, wasn’t welcoming. Weeks passed and their lives kept getting worse as their residence permit status neared expiration. Throughout their stay in Iran, no time was being wasted; as making money wasn’t just means for mere subsistence, as in it they saw tickets to a better life with their basic human rights sustained in Germany. But time beat them to it, their temporary visas got expired and they stayed despite the legal prohibition of their existence. As soon as they managed, they crossed the border to Turkey. Farhad worked 15 hours a day there, and he would have worked even more if his body would not fail him every time he tried.
A human smuggler in Turkey promised them a safe and smooth passage to Greek, which would cost 5000 dollars for each, so all that work seemed just ‘temporary’. Once they cross to Europe, it will all be history soon.
At that time Reyhan, Maryam’s mother, cried a lot. She remembered her husband, his strong hands; his kind smile. She remembered how he cared for the family and their lives, working in his shop from the crack of dawn to nightfall, with true contentment and goodwill. She could not recall ever hearing him complain, or utter a single word of resentment.
As her sons got older they helped their father in the shop. Abdulrahman, their youngest, turned out to be a very talented young boy. He spoke fluent English, which he could pick up from listening to English music and movies from the market. One day he met an American soldier who asked him to translate something and later offered to pay him in return of accompanying them around to translate. He earned good money and helped the family a lot. Thanks to him the family could afford a small party for Maryam and Farhad’s engagement. But the Taliban found out about him and accused him of collaborating with the enemy.
It wasn’t long after, that they attacked the family’s home, killing everyone except Maryam and her mother who were out visiting Farhad’s family. Reyhan could never forget that day, walking back to their home; finding the bodies drenched in blood, and the pale faces of their beloved ones.
The day has come. Farhad is saying goodbye to his 15-hour job routines, now that the amount of 1500 dollars is completed and handed to the smuggler. Next station: Greece. Now they are standing in front of another grotty boat, at the small hours of night, about to board. One by one, the smuggler tells around 153 people to board the boat. Once Maryam saw the boat she knew the passage would be anything but safe.
Many people wanted to go back, but the smuggler tells them that there will be no refunds for those who turn back. Farhad says that he doesn’t care about the money, “We would find another way to get to Europe, we just haven’t looked better.” Reyhan cries and whispers that she wants to go back. She is old and she shouldn’t be so far away from home and the graves of her husband and sons. But the people behind them became hysterical while the smuggler pushed them to decide in that instant. The police could come any minute. Some people started pushing and Reyhan sinks to the ground crying.
During this moment of chaos another Afghan boy grabs Farhad’s shoulder, looks right into his eyes and says "There is no other way brother. No way back, no way fore! Otherwise we wouldn’t be here“. Maryam turns around and glances for a short moment at the other 150 people and their fearful faces. Maryam says we have no choice. Both the lower compartment and the deck become filled with people. Once the boat entered the dark sea Reyhan starts praying, repeating every line in the Quran she could remember.
Waves begin hitting the boat harshly, allowing water to creep into the boat’s surface. The captain tells everyone to throw their baggage into the sea, to cut down some of the weight. So everyone throws their last belonging into the deadly dark infinity of the sea. But still the unforgiving wind kept on viciously pushing the little boat around like it was an unwanted flea, feeding on its greatness, drowning it down with its monstrous waves that climbed onto the boat, until the Sea finally got what he desired.
The boat hit a rock, but the captain did not seem to pay much attention to it, and commanded people not to worry. But the people worry nevertheless. Some look at the black sky, black as the ocean, black like a hole. Some are screaming, some are praying. Some men are crying like little babies for their mothers, for God to help. Reyhan is horribly quiet and holds the hands of Maryam and Farhad. The water keeps coming into the boat and the captain shouts at everyone to not worry whilst clearly not believing his own words. Maryam and her family are in the lower compartment which starts to fill up with water. People move to the windows, pushing each other to leave the compartment, but it gets too tight to move and the windows are too small, and the water is coming in too fast.
Farhad pulls Maryam out of the window and then her mother and nearly before it seems impossible for him to leave the compartment, he pulls himself out. Maryam is pale, Farhad too. . They were the last ones to get out alive of the lower part of the boat. Next to Farhad there is a woman from Syria crying in Arabic for help. She can’t swim and has no life jacket. Farhad looks over to Maryam and she knows what he is about to do. He takes off his life jacket and gives it to the woman.
They swim for as long as possible and realize that they have lost Reyhan, her mother in the crowd of screaming and hysterical waddling people. Some with life jackets, and some without. Farhad was one without. After some hours Farhad looks again over to Maryam and deep into her eyes. And she knows what he is about to say. He tells her that he is too tired to swim and that he is going to float on his back and rest. For a moment Maryam is turning her back to him looking desperately for her mother. But it is too dark and she can’t see. T
he waves are high. Suddenly she realizes that he floated away. She can hear him calling her, but he gets further and further away. Time passes. Maryam is freezing. Eventually a boat finds her. But they never find her husband Farhad or her mother Reyhan.
TEXT & ART:
This morning I woke up and found the snakeskin
of yesterday strewn about me.
This morning I woke up anew.
Mornings have always been favorites of mine,
I am blessed to be able to open my eyes
at whatever chaos the night before contained,
whatever I let myself believe in the dark.
I fall asleep and dream of she in the morning
she who wakes up with sunshine in her mouth
teeth bursting bright white sunbeams, I
make it a point to smile at myself in the mirror
because that she is me
and she’s one to smile at herself in the mirror.
This was always who I was.
The kind for
fresh starts and
new beginnings and
I have always been infatuated with evolution.
I make it routine to
close my eyes and drag my hands
over the masterpiece that I am.
I am creator looking for imperfections,
wounds left to lick, I am
places left to heal
places left to patch
places where love can grow
like flowers in cracked city pavement.
I have always been in lust with change.
I make it routine to
peel layers back
till the core of who I am
is in image of the Earth herself,
magma hot and
I have always been bewitched with revolution.
People tell me that I’m different now,
they ask me where “all of this” came from,
where it was growing up
I tell them it was not.
It was yet to be.
People tell me I’ve got a temper,
but I shed that skin years ago
from my mind before my body, I am
still picking at the wound that blazed when I let it go.
People tell me I’m not one to keep a grudge
but that was when I let the world walk right over me.
I am a doormat that grew legs and feet.
Don’t expect me to accept it when you
expect me to be the same person you made up your mind that I am.
Don’t expect me to stay the same.
I am crystal in chrysalis, I am
phoenix set on fire, I am
half coal and yet half diamond, I am
the sculpture and the sculptor, I am
creator and creation, I am
both poet and the poem
I’m crossing lines to cross out lines
writing notes in margins
that end up whole verses themselves
re-reading, reciting, editing, I am
rising from the dust and clay -
Give me the space to.
This is not a request, it’s a demand of you. I demand to